All posts by Melanie Paschke

Could Swiss agriculture produce Planetary Health Diet?

Grégoire Saboret1, Loïc Thurre2, Noémie Pidoux 3(2024). Food for Thought: Could Swiss agriculture provide healthy and sustainable food for its population? (PDF)

The Planetary Health Diet (PHD) is a reference diet for the entire population aimed at respecting the planetary boundaries for environmental resources while optimizing human’s population health (Willet et al. 2019).  Swiss consumption of certain types of food is far from the PHD. This suggests that dietary habits should shift protein sources towards plant-based options, preferably non-transformed such as beans, lentils or soy. This change can’t be triggered without considering a transformation of our agricultural systems. Currently, one-third of Switzerland’s land is dedicated to agriculture, covering about 1.5 million cultivated hectares, or roughly one hectare per five to six inhabitants. We posed a simple question: Could Swiss agriculture theoretically produce the PHD on this area?

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Towards Circular Nutrient Economy in Agriculture

Agriculture is facing a major challenge of feeding the growing world population. Since the green revolution, the abundant use of fertilizers has been widely regarded as a fundamental tool to address this challenge. Switzerland’s agriculture, on average, has used excessive amounts of fertilizers at relatively low efficiency, indicating the need to improve the nutrient use efficiency of Swiss agricultural production.

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Food for Thought: Towards Circular Nutrient Economy in Agriculture

Agriculture is facing a major challenge of feeding the growing world population. Since the green revolution, the abundant use of fertilizers has been widely regarded as a fundamental tool to address this challenge. Switzerland’s agriculture, on average, has used excessive amounts of fertilizers at relatively low efficiency, indicating the need to improve the nutrient use efficiency of Swiss agricultural production.
In this article we present a thought experiment on how to close nitrogen- and nutrient-cycles in Swiss agriculture and thus foster a more sustainable fertilization.

Radek Zenkl, Andreas Berlepsch-Valendas, Frank Liebisch (2024). Food for Thought: Towards Circular Nutrient Economy in Agriculture. Download the report (PDF)

The report was written during seminar: „Sustainable Plant Systems“ (551-0209-00L) at ETH Zurich in 2023.

Improving sustainability through canteen policies and interventions at three Swiss universities

In this report, we summarize the efforts to reduce GHG emissions in the community catering of three Swiss universities: University of Zurich, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich and University of Basel. We present possible interventions and policies implemented in the canteens and discuss the impacts of these interventions in the institutional environments. Finally, we arrive at some recommendations for further action.

García Rosa, A.V., Scharte, M., Paschke, M. (2023). Improving sustainability through canteen policies and interventions at three Swiss universities: ETH Zurich, University of Zurich and University of Basel. Download the report (PDF)

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Science & Policy Stakeholder Event

The future of land-use in Switzerland under the new Global Biodiversity Framework (COP15).

Download Summary Report (including group protocols) (PDF)

On September 26, 2023, the PSC organized a Fireside chat in collaboration with the Franxini Project. At the 15th UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15, 2022) in Montreal, Canada, all 195 countries agreed that 30% of land and water areas should be reserved for habitat and species protection.

Around 40 participants composed of PSC scientists, the Franxini team, representatives of governmental and non-governmental organizations discussed what Switzerland could look like assuming that the biodiversity targets as formulated in Kunming and Montreal will be met in 2030.

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Plant-based proteins: The potential for Swiss agriculture

By Beat Keller, Crop Science at ETH Zurich

The Swiss agriculture is traditionally focused on meat and dairy production. Yet, global warming requires agricultural practices to radically change: without decreasing livestock production, there is no sustainable solution for food production (about 85% of the Swiss agricultural emissions originate from livestock production). Fortunately, the Swiss population is consuming more and more plant-based proteins substituting animal products.

There is increasing demand for legume species such as soybean, faba bean and peas. However, adapted legume varieties for human consumption, local production and supply lines are largely missing. Only soybean has established supply chains and modern varieties thanks to the foreseeing breeding program of Agroscope which started decades ago.

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Plant-based proteins: Peas as a source of necessary amino acids for human nutrition

In a series of articles, we introduce research from the PSC network that support increases of ecological plant-based protein production for human nutrition in Switzerland and worldwide.

Peas, for example the yellow pea, have a high concentration of almost all essential amino acids. Compared to soy, they have no allergenic potential. They are particularly interesting for human nutrition, both in cooking and as a basis in the food industry for meat substitutes or protein-rich drinks.

A challenge, however, is their cultivation. Here it is necessary to maintain a crop rotation that allows up to 8 years break between cultivation on the same land. Why? Soil legume fatigue is caused by various harmful soil organisms and affects pea roots to the point of total crop failure.

Resistant and high-yielding peas were the focus of a collaboration between ETH Zurich and FIBL. Research was conducted to see if peas resistant to soil legume fatigue could be grown with shorter crop rotations. In fact, resistant pea plants were found whose roots were heavily colonized by helpful soil organisms. Do these soil organisms help repel the harmful organisms?

With a newly established resistance screening reproducible distinction between susceptible and resistant pea lines is possible. The screening system allows to predict PRRC resistance for a given field site and offers a tool for selection at the seedling stage in breeding nurseries.

Citation

Lukas Wille, Mario Kurmann, Monika M. Messmer, Bruno Studer and Pierre Hohmann (2021). Untangling the Pea Root Rot Complex Reveals Microbial Markers for Plant Health. Front. Plant Sci.: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2021.737820

Some of the researchers

Dr. Lukas Wille, researcher at FiBL, Switzerland and former researcher at ETH Zurich is working on complexes of root rot pathogens, resistance of pea against root rot disease and the role that microbial diversity and plant-microbe interactions play in shaping the pathobiome and plant resistance. Bruno Studer is professor for Molecular Plant Breeding at ETH Zurich

Research on plant-based proteins at the Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center

By 2035, plant-based protein products such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, vegi convenience or meat analog could replace 11-22% of conventional meat in Switzerland (BLW, 2022). Far too little to live within the limits of available resources of our planet. The Planetary Health Diet suggests eating more pulses (such as peas or beans), nuts, protein-rich grains (such as oats) and pseudocereals (such as buckwheat) and replacing at least half of meat with plant-based proteins (EAT-Lancet, 2020). How can we transform our food systems? We need consumers to accept increasing ampounts of plant-based proteins in their weekly diets and farmers to be able to grow more plant-based proteins in ecological ways.

We introduce research from the PSC network that support increases of plant-based protein production for human nutrition in Switzerland and worldwide.

Plant-based proteins: Finding a resistant gene against the novel bean leaf crumple virus in South American beans

In South America per capita consumption of beans is 14kg/capita compared to Switzerland with below 1.92/capita (statista.com). This shows the importance of traditional beans in the protein-supply of populations in South America.

Now a new threat to this base of food security has arrived: Since 2002 the novel begomovirus (BLCrV) is infecting common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) and is increasingly widespread in Colombia, the Andean and Mesoamerican areas. The virus is associated with leaf crumple symptoms and significant yield losses.

It is transmitted by the whitefly vector Bemisia tabaci and causes devastating yield losses in susceptible cultivars. Current climate change scenarios suggest that the whitefly populations can reach higher altitudes and move towards more temperate regions, expanding the range of infestation to other countries in Latin America.

Management of the disease relies on the use of insecticides to restrict the whitefly advancement, but resistance to these products have started to evolve. A more sustainable solution to control the disease is deploying plant genetic resistance.

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Summary from Response Thematic Event: Sustainable Energy System – Who Will Lead the Way?

In this public event of the Response Doctoral Program, organized by the Energy System Science Center, GreenBuzz and Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center at Siemens in Zug one question was in the focus: how do we get to a sustainable energy system?

For sustainable energy systems the innovative technologies are existing, but we have to combine them in the most sustainable way to decarbonize our future. The questions are what business model change, political regulations and societal adaptation are needed and inevitable and helped us to answer the questions “What steps we should take?”, and “Who will lead the way?”

9 Response doctoral students presented and discussed their research to representatives from the energy sector, companies and the public. They presented their research on green energy models, biofuels, semiconductor efficiency, managing hydropower dams, carbon capture and storage or the future of electrical transport.

From the keynotes:

Kristina Orehounig, Empa draw attention to the housing infrastructure that needs to be cooled in summer and heated in winter due to climate change. For this CO2 emission-low systems need to be combinations of multiple renewable supply technologies in small decentralized networks in neighbourhoods.

Kaja Hollstein, Swissgrid pointed out challenges in the future when the grid system is operated with renewables. In winter demand for heating is highest while supply by photovoltaic drops in several countries at the same time. In this case there will be no import market that can balance the shortages of energy.

Ilonka Zapke, Siemens showed the Wunsiedel blueprint for our energy future. Energy comes from renewables and is stored in one of the largest batteries worldwide. Battery storage might be one solution to energy shortages in the grid system.

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